Friday, August 31, 2007

Is microstamping the answer?

A recent hype in gun crime reduction is microstamping, it boils down to this:
When a criminal shoots somebody with a self loading weapon, he often leaves behind cartridge casings. Microstamping the components of a gun which come into contact with the casing would allow for symbols to be placed on those casings as they are fired. which can the be traced back to the gun, and to the original owner of the gun.

The Brady campaign has placed links to a series of videos hosted on youtube concerning microstamping, those videos can be found here:
there are a total of six parts to that movie

The components would be engraved using a pulse laser. I personally have most faith in engraving the firing pin and the breech face. The latter is the only one which cannot be easily replaced, though still occluded or defaced. The extractor and ejector are simple solid pieces of metal which can easily be replaced by self-made replacements. It's plausible that criminals will go through the trouble of doing this. The firing pin too can be defaced or replaced by a home made variant, though it's not as easy to manufacture one yourself. Also, defacing a firing pin may result in a less reliable firearm. (depends on make and model)
The ease with which the breech face of a handgun can be defaced depends entirely on the type of the firearm. It can be remarkably easy or hard.

When would it be applicable?

Not all guns eject spent cartridge casings, according to "guns used in crime", a publication by the bureau of justice statistics / us department of justice, 51.5% of all stolen handguns are revolvers, those do not automatically eject cartridge casings after each shot.
However: the 10 most traced models of firearms all ejected casings (shells in one case, the mossburg 500 shotgun, though this one doesn't do so directly after each shot. (12ga). (1994)
The same study also provides good documentation concerning homicides in Philadelphia (1995), 95% of all homicides were committed using handguns, 66% of those were revolvers, 23% of the time, a semi-automatic handgun was used.

Note: the 11% which is unaccounted for is not explained, however it's often impossible to determine within acceptable certainty whether a shot was fired from an autoloading pistol or a revolver, because certain cartridges can be fired from either.

Microstamped casings will only be recovered in a limited amount of cases. A lot of times (sometimes the bigger part), the weapons used do not eject casings after each shot. Furthermore, autoloading pistols can be fitted with "brass catchers", simple contraptions which capture the ejected cartridge casing. These are commonly used by target shooters who load their own cartridges.

This brings us to another point of criticism: cartridge casing can be re-used easely. People commonly collect casings from shooting ranges to sell online Only newly manufactured guns could be fitted with microstamped components. It would take a while for the current supply of illegal guns to dry up, but it would happen over time, a very log time. Not only is this one more thing to take into consideration as we compare cost to effectiveness, but it also means that as long as there are still non-microstamped guns in circulation, the casing may lead to the wrong person.
If somebody were to buy a microstamped gun and take it to the range and shoot it, but chooses not to collect his casings, or tries to but misses one, this would effectively mean that there's a stamped cartridge out there ready to be reloaded and re-fired.
Anybody with such casings, some basic tools and the information provided on the internet could manufacture cartridges which would incriminate a completely innocent person!

There was an elaborate article in the AFTE journal vol.38-1 2006, reviewing microstamping. The main point there was that if somebody used a microstamped gun in a crime, several cartridges may be necessary to be able to read the information stamped on the casing, because a lot of the information from the components is not transferred to the casing.
Some types of firearms are will transfer this information considerably better however, as seen in the video's sponsored by the Brady campaign.

So what happens after: "Shots are fired, casings have been ejected (less than 50% of the time), Casings are recovered and the serial number of the firearm is found."?
Using this information, the original owner of the gun is paid a visit and inquired about the current whereabouts of said weapon. Maybe there will be some cases where the weapon hasn't been reported stolen. Fat chance? I'm afraid not.

I'm not adversed to microstamping, I think it's a valid technique to be used in forensic science. My condensed opinions.

-It can only work in a severely limited amount of cases.
-Trying to keep track of people who let their guns get stolen once a month seems less work
-There has not yet been a full evaluation of the implementation price, I want to see one.
-It's very easy to get around the technology, especially if the crime is premeditated.
-If not premeditated, one only needs the calmness to pick up the casings.
(unless a revolver was used

I'm not buying into this, yet ... if it turns out to be extremely cheap, then sure, why not? (Note: I'm well aware that the price might turn out to be astronomical) But I'm not getting my hopes up, and the Brady campaign shouldn't be getting peoples hopes up either.

Acceptible Vs. unacceptible gun legislation

In a previous post, I tried to establish that guns will remain present in our society for a long time, perhaps indefinitely. It's only natural that they should be subject to *some* legislation, just like motor vehicles and other dangerous machinery. However, which kind of regulation is acceptable and why? The gun rights group of the debate often seem too stubborn to allow even a minor infraction, I'll try to explore and explain that as well.

Good intentions.

There are a couple of good proposals and bad proposals to curb gun crime, let me try to show you some common grounds:

A good proposal is non-specific.
It's madness to try and ban certain models of firearms (the original assault weapons ban). It's utterly ridiculous to state that one specific model can do something that another cannot do. That's why a good restriction will cite characteristics. The current legislation concerning fully automatic firearms is a good example of this: all fully automatic weapons (handguns, rifles, smooth bore long guns and AOW's) are subject to this set of laws and tax regulations.
Another example is the banning of the "black talon" ammunition line. Black talons were quickly replaced by SXT (jokingly referred to as the Same eXact Thing), a specific ban obviously didn't work, but banning armour piercing handgun rounds was done effectively and universally by limiting the amount of high density materials that can be present in jacketed ammunition. Such measures are all-encompassing and provide clear guidelines to the industry concerning what they can and cannot make.

It should tackle a real problem.
If it's not broken, don't fix it, if a gun doesn't pose a problem, don't push to ban it. Examples for "bad" here are the proposed bans on .50 caliber guns, which are hardly ever using in a crime. Tougher laws on straw purchases on the other hand are likely to help curb gun violence, as would reasonable laws to reduce large purchases.

It hasn't been disproved yet.
People should be open to new ideas, and weary of people who push for laws that have been observed not to work elsewhere. Why would anybody want to pass legislation which is known not to work? Waiting periods have not been effective in reducing violence, I would have thought that it would at least reduce suicide rates, but I've yet to see evidence of that. The archaic methods of ballistic fingerprinting have also been proposed to be made mandatory. These now-obsolete methods have been largely useless in crime, even when they were still cutting edge. Ballistic forensics on the other hand, are an invaluable tool for criminal investigators. (I hope to write a piece on microstamping in the near future)

As you can see there are at least some "good" ways to curb gun crime, many remain untested for now. (as opposed to fighting poverty and being harsher on repeat offenders, but that's another story). Still, these proposition ctach quite the deal of flack from the gun-rights crowd, how come?
Good legislation starts with good intentions. You can safely assume that most politicians and activists have either a hidden agenda of sorts, or are acting on impulse and emotion, rather than reason. Gun rights activist are weary of poeple who might not have good intentions either pushing for these laws, or waiting untill after they've passed. This is one of the reasons that some proposals that seem very valid ways of fighting crime, will not be received well by gun right activists.
Aside from some notable examples(1), government officials going door to door to confiscate legally owned firearms is not an imminent threat to the gun owners of America. Still, it's fear from this that is causing a lot of people to oppose relatively benign laws that could in fact help to lower crime.

Why? "The road to hell is paved with good intentions"

The key word is incrementalism (neologism). No sane person would call for an all out ban on firearms. Not that one could not believe in such notion, but because it's not politically possible to achieve. there are two paths to take, the back door, or the slow and steady slope.
You start off with some minor restrictions, but in the past it's been seen that those do not always work, so more and more restrictions, all small and seemingly meaningless, are added, until eventually, the kind of weapons deemed fit for civilian ownership is tiny, and require a great deal of red tape/money to get them.
It's fear from this which makes a large amount of gun activists say: "No, we'll not allow you to get a foothold!" even when the legislation is a little bit benign.

This is made even worse by the fact that most large gun-control groups support (or have at one time supported) proposals which aren't sound (those three guidelines I've given up there). This causes gun rights activists to go off looking for potential, non-envisioned results of the proposal. Even when the proposal is benign, and might even help, people don't trust it, and will continue to oppose it in favor of other methods.

I don't know what the best way of reducing gun crime is, but the best way to get a proposal passed, is to target crime without affecting gun legislation. Focus on the human element, not the tools he uses.

About, the word "incrementalism" (wed sept 5 2007)
I've recently discovered the usage of this word in literature, namely "cryptonomicon" by Neil Stephenson (p181)

Registered gun confiscation begins

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Current events in the United Kingdom.

The UK is often cited by gun control activists as a great example of how and why gun ownership should be restricted. Gun rights activists like to use it as a warning of how fast and incrementally gun legislation can take effect, and why it should not be allowed to.

I was rather glad to see this on the BBC site; Justice Secretary Jack Straw has said the level of gun crime is too high but has started to fall thanks to government measures.
Does he manage to convince you? I kept reading, because there are statistical tendencies and the perception of the real world, and digging deeper produced these articles from previous years:

"Last week Ms Dynamite performed a tribute concert to Charlene Ellis and Latisha Shakespeare, the two teenagers shot dead in Birmingham over Christmas. The tragedy gave a focus to recently published statistics suggesting that gun crime in Britain has risen by a staggering 35 per cent in the last 12 months. (related article)
John Pandit of Asian Dub Foundation and Community Music, a project which offers music education in deprived areas, believes: “If David Blunkett spent as much time looking at the situations that cause crime - drugs, unemployment, bad housing and lack of opportunities – then you might see a difference in the crime figures."

I couldn't have said it any better! They've already done away with guns, so they're turning to another scapegoat, rather than addressing the real underlying issues. I'd personally have added disproportionate and discriminatory punishments as well.

Here's a more recent article about Brittains Crime rate which the gun control groups are pushing forward as desirable, so no, the problem was not temporarily.

The events in the United Kingdom should be a warning to all of us: you cannot stop gun violence -or even halt it at that- by reducing gun ownership by law-abiding citizens.
You're not disarming criminals by passing legislation, and amnesty projects usually come up with junk, guns and knifes which were not likely to be used for criminal purposes anyway.

Articles added afterwards:
Violent crimes are going up

You kids are so much alike!

I spend a lot of time browsing through both gun control and gun rights action groups sites and publication, I often find myself reading the same rhetoric over and over again on both sides.

Both of them are constantly calling each other names, making vague allusions to what the other side has been saying about themselves and complaining that the other side constantly dishes up the same arguments (without actually publishing and refuting them).
They both claim common sense and say that the other side constantly repeats the same wrong arguments and never listens to the other sides reason.

And people are buying this?

If you cannot give a well founded statement (links, footnotes, neutral fact sheets, quote the person you're talking about), then please, reserve your comments to yourself!
At least talk to each other then, don't censor out comments you don't like, answer questions and prove responsive to criticism.

You kids are so much alike,
maybe one day you'll grow up together.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Can we get rid of guns?

It's often been said: the world would be better off without guns.
In this text, rather than sharing my personal opinions, I'd like to explore if that idea is in fact possible;

Can we prevent people from getting tools to harm other people?

I really like this article by Kopel Gallant and Eisen, It explores the notion of getting rid of firearms very deeply. It is heavily biased pro-gun rights, so keep that in mind.

Let's take a look at the guns, they're generally very strong and durable, made to last for centuries. After the introduction of the non-corrosive primer, weapon degradation was reduced to the point where fouling is no longer a long-term threat to a gun. At least, not to the degree that a dirty gun will no longer be accurate if left uncleaned for a long period of time. Add to that all the modern product to preserve a gun from the elements (cosmoline, special gun safe desiccants, specialized oils, ...) and it really does become a fact that a mothballed rifle can outlast you by a century.
In other words, barring confiscation and/or willful destruction, the currently available guns will be around longer than you and I.
But will these weapons remain available to criminals? I mean, if they get used in crime, eventually the law will catch up with those stashed weapons, and the supply will dry up right?

We'll need to take some serious measures to keep guns out of the country, we wouldn't want more guns being brought in than we can destroy right?
It's illegal to posses heroin and cocaine, but those dangerous drugs are very much present in the US because they get smuggled in. Massive amounts of money and man hours are dedicated to the extermination of these smugglers, to little avail. Why would guns be any harder to smuggle in? Well ... they're bigger and heavier than drugs in comparison to the sales price. so, there's not as much money to be made smuggling in guns? Think again.

How much more valuable will guns become one nobody has them anymore? If you can arm a gang of criminals with small personal defense weapons (PDW's, as used by the crew of armored vehicles), they could easily wipe out any rival gang that' doesn't have access o those weapons long before th police could respond to a call. With the war on drugs raging on without end in sight, it would be a good investment to have guns smuggled in. But in all honesty, it's not the smuggling that I'm concerned about, it's the domestic manufacture.

What I think is missing in the "a world without guns" article, is some concrete information on gun manufacturing. It mentions it here and there, but it doesn't give a good image of how easy or hard it is to produce a functional firearm. Manufacturing firearms during a very difficult period, hmm, rings a bell!
It wouldn't be the first time that people cried out for lots of cheap, easely made firearms, the most notable examples can be observed during world war II.

With the war weighting heavily on the economy, the leaders had to go looking for weapons that were easy to manufacture, cheaply at that, reliable and easy to use.
The sten submachinegun was just the ticket, supposedly designed by two engineers over a pint of beer (!), it marked a new era of small arms.
(Olek volg's page on the sten smg).
At $6 it was dirt cheap, and it was extremely easy to make as well, but that's still six times more than the infamous liberator pistol.
Single shot, single dollar (well, $2.10 according to wikipdia, not indexed ... roughly $25 today) to produce: 1 2 3

Let there be no question about it, it's perfectly possible to produce large amounts of junk guns for no money, but is it possible to build something a little more worthwhile?
The home gunsmith takes pride in being able to build machine guns from plumbing supplies. These are functional designs, but hardly top of the line. And he has received criticism for his open bold design (as used in the ingram m10 and m11) which is prone to jamming)

The CnC gunsmith on the other hand, shows us all how frighteningly easy it it to build a fully functional assault rifle receiver from a block of solid aluminium. He proves that military grade rifles and handguns are well within the reach of an ordinary citizen who has enough motivation to manufacture one. And if you think about the kind of money to be made during a period of prohibition, surely you can imagine that there will be people making and selling these?

And that's just firearms. Did you know that the bloodiest school massacre was not carried out by firearms? Somebody blew up a school using explosives. (bath school may 18th 1927, 45 people killed and 58 injured ) Talking about explosives, has anybody topped off Timothy McVeighs bomb truck attack by using small arms? Not to my knowledge.
And McVeighs weapon was also largely home-made..

Now, I'm a chemistry student and an active member of the amateur pyrotechnics community, I know that it's not at all difficult to manufacture explosives in your home, which is exactly why police officers are receiving training for just those cases. The presence of explosive synthesis desription available on the internet have much been the subject of discussion. A good paper on the issue can be found here: A very well documented file, easy to read even for the layman.

A common subject on online forums is how little the contemporary terrorist knows about manufacturing explosives. We are all too lucky that the only people with enough hate to do it, lack the intelligence patience and creativity to actually manufacture a bomb. Well, the school massacres that are being carried out in the US aren't being done by idiots, the gunmen are often very intelligent, and commonly psychotic. Psychosis is just the ailment that would allow somebody -deprived of firearms- to take the time to get it all just right. The failure at Littleton Colorado will serve as a warning for anybody trying to rush it, no, we can safely assume that new time, the explosives will actually go off.

We can ban guns, we can confiscate them and try to track down smugglers and manufacturers, but there is no way that is going to stop somebody who is bent on killing innocent people.

Does that mean we cannot stop them? I don't know.
You can only prevent so many accident by being safe and careful.
You can only help so many people with counseling and psychological help, but Cho, the gunman at Virgina tech, had been identified to have mental issues,

"The independent panel also concluded that though Cho had demonstrated signs of mental instability earlier, college staff had not intervened effectively."


Maybe he could have been stopped, on a soft couch by a kind therapist.
No gun restrictions or armed guards, but a little bit a gentle, human contact.

Can it all be done, I don't know, but what I do know is this:
If somebody claims we can stop intentional massacres by reducing firearms ownership, he/she is either ignorant, lying, or pursuing ulterior motifs.
Not the kind of person I' want to represent me.

Is it really guns?

A colleague of mine has recently posted this piece of creative journalism, the author is quit selective as to which comments he allows to be visible, so I'll be publishing my response right here:

Before getting to the real matter, he expresses his discontentment towards the mainstream media, who are -according to him- instilling an unjustified xenophobia into the American public. I don't know how you feel about that, but I felt rather insulted, and if you've got a functioning brain, you should too!
Oh well, you'd think he'd have insulted your intelligence badly enough by then? Read on ...

"We have more guns stolen from their owners---about 300,000 annually--than many countries have gun owners. [Take a minute to get your head around THAT]! In Great Britain, Australia, and Japan, where gun ownership is severely restricted, no more than a few dozen people are killed each year by handguns. In the United States, where private citizens own a quarter-billion guns, around 15,000 are killed, 18,000 commit suicide, and another 1,500 die accidentally from firearms."

Where to start? Let's ignore the fact that he's citing countries that are quite a bit smaller in terms of population than the US, what bothers me is that he doesn't manage to stick to the point in a single paragraph, or even be remotely clear about what he means.
15 000 are killed! Wait, killed ... does than include those 1.500 accidents? It can't include the suicides (most of which are on their second try, check the recommended reading if you wish), does it include people killed in self defense, criminals killed by police officers, criminals killed in violent confrontation with other criminals (gang warfare is not a pretty picture, don't get caught in there) ... ?
Makes you wonder, I bet those "couple of dozen gun deaths in the other countries" is a manipulated figure too, I'd check it out, but it's too vague to even guess where that came from.

"American children are twelve times more likely to die from gun injuries than are youngsters in other industrialized nations.

Other nations ... which ones? Afraid to say which one?
Maybe you mean the UK? No, I guess not then. Also, if you've read through the gun facts, you'll know that those American children are predominantly over 18 years of age and involved in violent crime, or emotionally abandoned victims of suicide.

The rest of the post basically revolves around the idea: "no school shootings without guns"
Well, back in the day when you could order a gun in from a sears catalogue or just pick one up from a local shop (or gas station) without fingerprinting, background check or waiting period, there weren't any school shootings to speak of, so go bark up another tree.

"You probably also don't remember that the vast bulk of the school shooters emerge in rural areas where gun ownership and the gun nut culture more generally is widespread."

Gun nut culture? ... oh well, let's consult the Brady campaign about this shall we:
That's a map listing a great deal of high profile killings ... Littleton Colorado was pretty rural yes, but not too many other school shooting around, are there? Looks like a wide gaping void in just those places where my so called "gun nut culture" is the strongest. No sorry, once again, you've got things backwards.
I'm citing the Brady campaign here to back me up, go figure how far you are from the truth.

Facing by a person who refers to me as a racist, violent gun extremist is one thing, but this same person denies me the right to respond to his blog directly, yet he claims I'm the one who shies from facts and freedom of speech.
Well Mister

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Leave our campusses alone!

Few things shock me worse than a massacre as seen on Virginia tech,
Racism is one of them, and the political exploitation of the massacres victims is another.

Most of them hadn't been laid out yet before the first statement in regards to gun ownerships were being made. "We need tighter gun control", "We need to start arming teachers", ... you're all revolting. And I'm not arguing that either of them are wrong, far from. Without firearms, the assailant would likely only have managed to kill a couple of people before getting overpowered, the same can be said about the scenario where more people had been carrying concealed weapons. Neither scenarios are wrong, neither is guaranteed to be correct.

No, you're using the human pain and misery to promote your own political ideas
, applied to a situation where they aren't even relevant! College and university campuses are amongst the safest places in the union. You can attribute that to them being highly controllable environments, the social structure ... I'd even humor the notion that the almost complete absence of firearms has got something to do with it, fact is, we don't need any action to increase their safety. The results of a backfire outweigh the potential benefit by far!

Let's evaluate the situation from another point of view: who's tossing up this issue for their own gain? Politicians ... they care about getting re-elected more than they care about the local fraternity or faculty group. They do not have have your best interest in mind, nor do the zealots supporting them. (this statement does not distinguish between political siding) Another breed of crier here are the ones who are personally affected by this horrible event.
I can't blame them, I really can't. If I had something like that happen to a beloved one, I'd be out screaming for answers too. Truth is, grief and anger are not the good foundation of difficult decisions.

Pick up the phone and call the campus nearest to you, ask the person on the other side how long it's been that somebody was killed or hurt badly through violence? Chances are that he or she won't even remember. Do you really want to start messing with that? You can save more lives directing traffic at a busy intersection for one single week, than by messing with campus related gun legislation for a decade.

Reccomended reading:

If you're interested in the second amendment issue, here's a couple of things you may want to read through.

Before I link you to anything, head the following:
Politically inspired organizations are notorious for distorting the truth. Both the Brady campaign and the NRA publish their own cherry picked fact sheets which aren't wrong, but which often do not give a good representation of the actual data. This is why you should always read through the cited sources.
A governmental, law enforcement source should always be considered better than those of a lobbying organization, the latter you should always try to verify.

Be extremely weary of causal relationships. Fact sheets are more than happy to say: crime did this because this bill passed ... WRONG!
It's nigh impossible to lay the merit of a statistical tendency by a single cause. When crime rises or goes down, there is a myriad of potential causes, and it's almost impossible to take all of them into consideration. Instead, try to look for patterns. If a law has come into effect in several locations, and you can see the same things happening in these different places, only then can you start to tie these consequences to the pretended source.

A general observation:
The empirical data supporting the "pro gun ownership" side of the debate vastly outnumbers that of the other side. Don't accept quantity as proof, dig into the reason why there are so many "fact sheets" supporting the PRO2A notion. Is it because of the NRA massive financial capabilities? The vast amount of gun owners who are concerned with their rights? Is one side more politically active than the other, or just plain right? Take as many factors as possible into consideration and make your own moral decisions!

Government statistics databases
Use these sites to check as much of the "facts" you get anywhere!

Guncite: A site that's collected a great deal of information (empirical and emotional) concerning gun ownership, criminal use, and political activist groups (both sides). Their are entire pages of links to both gun control proponents and gun rights activist organizations.

Gunfacts: strictly PRO2A facts, they can be right on the money or cherry picked, regardless, this should be required reading to anybody who claims to be an expert on gun violence. A lot of effort is paid to showing where the Brady campaign "lies" to people. Somebody should make an equivalent for th other side too :p

Political lobbying:
They sure like to shape the truth! Neither of them give you easy access to good information these days, but they're great to get your feet wet with what's cooking these days.

Self defense: a human right.
This is an all inclusive site about civilian gun ownership. You may not agree with the author on all points, but he does give you a GREAT picture of the real world, and of why gun owners are convinced why they're right. I can't prove him wrong, nor do I intend to, this is a masterpiece when it comes to conveying your believes.


Mission statement


Over the past few weeks, I've been reading up on peoples opinion on civilian gun ownership, a part of this time was spent reading through, and replying to blogs. Now I've decided to start keeping my own blog so people can -if they wish- take a better look at my opinions on civilian gun ownership.

I intend to:
Separate truth, lies and statistics
For too often, either side starts trowing statistics and half-truths at the other side to try and back up their point of view. I find it repulsive that anybody would try to do so, and that each side is just as guilty of doing this. I intend to inform people of the truth.
Yes, this means you: regardless of your adherence to either side (or even remaining neutral), you have been bombarded with rubbish information that prevents you from forming a well founded opinion on second amendment issues.

I hope to:
Provide ideas to curb criminal behavior, and violent crime in particular.
Even the most die hard opponent of gun ownership will admit: guns aren't the real issue, it's violence and other criminal behavior. By tackling this larger issue, I hope to be able to push people in a good direction when forming their opinions on politics (local, federal, foreign). By good direction I mean: for the general good.
This is tricky, because the gernal good is the most cite reason for people to commit the most heinous of acts, which is exactly why ...

I will try,
to teach people how to live together with respect fr each others believes and ideas. To live civilized and in harmony, to not break down the social fabric which binds us, and to not harm each other.

Other things I might post about would be larger political issues and ethical matters, because such things are almost without exception tied to the functioning of society as a whole.